The House of Shades at Almeida Theatre
Off London’s West End, a full house welcomes The House of Shades, a play with conversations that span five decades, centring on the undeniable cracks in the industrial environment of the working-class in Britain between 1965 and 2019. Only a few can afford to chase dreams, while others struggle to chase away the worry of how to make ends meet. The Webster family acts as a mirror for the social and political battle that Britain faced – and still faces – at important times in the country’s history, and urges the audience to dwell on the parallels being relived today.
Directed by the unquestionably talented Blanche McIntyre and based on playwright Beth Steel’s book, the production boasts an astonishing ensemble of actors, including BAFTA and Olivier award-nominated actor Anne-Marie Duff (Sex Education, His Dark Materials). The Webster family’s life predominantly unfolds at their home in Nottingham, and their journey does not fail to touch something deep in every spectator.
The first act gradually introduces the dynamics of the group, and it takes some time for the layers of repressed personalities to be exposed. The satirical misogynistic, racist and homophobic dialogue between the family members gets audience members shuffling in their seats, but there are also Bette Davis quotes (such as “There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne”), Anne-Marie Duff’s gifted singing and dry humour cracking up the audience between scenes.
The second act brings shock and discomfort, and leaves the audience speechless until the end. An unwanted child, home abortions, power games, inequality and the decline of British quality of life are shoved into the audience’s face with the aim of raising taboo conversations. A mother shares a kiss with her son, men exploit their power and financial status to attract women, and alcohol becomes the only tool to dream – all elements that can create art and make the play a provocative medium. Women are centre-stage and allowed to shine for the duration (almost three hours with a short interval). It is an experience that should not be missed and its subject, writing and performances will undeniably live on in discussion amongst those who have the chance to see the play come to life.
Photo: Helen Murray
The House of Shades is at Almeida Theatre from 7th May until 18th June 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.